Anyway, I'm thinking that with easy to use control software there are lots of cool marginally useful tasks a drone could do (walk your very small dog, feed the goldfish, water some cactus or bonsai trees, chase crows and yes bring you beer). Since the requirements for these jobs are likely to vary considerably (while the basic airframe may be roughly the same I can imagine all sorts of camera attachments, grippers, cargo holders), it would be great if one could design and make one of these things largely (not including motors and electronics) at home. Are hobbyist 3D printers (less than $3K) up to the task? Is the plastic material strong enough for the kinds of modest* loads one could expect? Would it take a lot of work to make critical surfaces (fan blades) aerodynamically smooth or just a little sand paper? If, I mean WHEN, they crash and break, would the cost of reprinting parts be reasonable?
I heard that a company has come out with a 3D printer that makes much more accurate prints using the laser-on-liquid method of stereolithography (and is currently being sued for patent infringement!). I also heard that someone is making "an operating system" for drones that might reduce the difficulty of writing software for these things. (I've heard it'll be expensive, hope he'll license it more cheaply for non-commercial uses). I assume that current drones could be controlled by something like the arduino computer, is it light enough? Are the electric motors and batteries pretty standard? If true and these things come to pass, could I conceivably make my own drone at home?
Of course, until there's a thriving community of people passing designs around, it'll probably be best to take an existing drone (like the Parrot AR) and first build replacement parts (what's the best way to make high precision small scale 3D scans?) and then modify it. With even this basic capability there would be many things people could try, like would it be better to have bigger but slower turning blades? More blades? Fewer? How about being able to transition to a winged flying mode for greater range? What about landing gear, recharging hookups? More sophisticated users could try modeling the aerodynamics and basic structure of the drone to improve performance, handling, payload capacity. How about making a version of the "flying bird drone" that Speed Racer had with his Mach 5?
Anyway, I have one last reason why I'd like to be able to print out (most of) a drone at home. I live in Vietnam and getting anything unusual/rare/special like spare parts for a drone takes a lot of time/money/bribery. I figure it might be better to get one good 3D printer into the country than waiting weeks every time I needed to get a spare/modified part. (I'll stockpile the feedstocks).
So what's possible now (or in the next year) and what items have I left out? GPS, cellphone module, cameras, lights, antennas, microphones/speakers for sonar? Grappling hooks? Tasers? Mace? Does anyone know the bandwidth requirements for remotely controlling/watching a video feed? (the phone network here is only 3G). How about a high bandwidth laser comm link? How about powering it via microwaves or lasers?
(Of course there are even more problematic applications that can be addressed with printing a drone at home especially if it can carry a grenade or carry a 3D printed gun!) but I won't go there now. On a side note, are drones legal to be used in paintball? Can one team use drones for surveillance or dropping/firing paint bombs/weapons? Could another team fight back using drones in aerial dogfights? Since they are so fragile and expensive for the average gamer I imagine a laser target scheme could be used where it would register a hit. You could have your own mini-arms race!)
*If the plastic is really strong, I'd love to think about making an underwater drone for exploring some of the reefs in S.E. Asia!"